Rookie James Houston was clearly upset with himself Saturday at open minicamp after he smartly under cut a short pass play near the left sideline in a 7-on-7 period. He got his hands on the football, but couldn't come up with the interception.
Houston jumped in the air and clapped his hands together lamenting the missed opportunity. The fact that Houston was in position to make a play in his second rookie minicamp practice says a lot about the versatility that attracted the Lions to him in the first place.
Houston played a reserve off-the-ball linebacker role his first few years at Florida from 2018-2020, recording 103 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. He transferred to Jackson State in 2021 and was dominant as an on-the-ball edge rusher with 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. The Lions are moving him back off the ball to start his NFL career, but his versatility gives them options.
Houston told reporters after Saturday's practice his mindset doesn't change no matter where he lines up in the defense.
"My mindset is always the same on the field. Just physical and dominant and just be dynamic and make plays," he said. "Whether that's on the line or off the ball, I'm always trying to be in the backfield and just cause havoc."
Houston will compete for a role in Detroit's linebacker corps as either a WILL or SAM. His versatility and ability to rush gives Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn options.
Houston had a nice rush in a team period Saturday where he flushed quarterback Connor Sampson out of the pocket and disrupted the play. He admitted he was still kind of getting his feet wet playing in space and participating in 7-on-7 periods as an off-the-ball linebacker after being a pass rusher last season, but things are coming back to him naturally.
"It feels great out here," he said. "Coach (Kelvin) Sheppard has been great. Just coaching me up and getting me in the right position to make plays."
Wherever he ends up lining up on defense, Houston knows special teams will be a big part of his role early on. He's accepted that challenge, and looks forward to making an immediate impact there.
"Like I said, I'm a dynamic player," Houston said. "I get in that backfield and I cause havoc. I make plays, I cause turnovers and things like that. Forced fumbles are huge for me (seven forced fumbles in 2021), picks, everything like that. That's going to be the name of my game."
Houston and fellow rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez played off the ball together at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an offseason all-star event for incoming NFL prospects. He said that helped his transition back to an off-the-ball spot, as well as being able to bounce some things off Rodriguez.
Houston said the next step for him is getting the playbook down so when he joins the veterans for OTAs next week he hopes to feel like a vet himself and hit the ground running.
"I'm coming in to make the team," said Houston, who was a sixth-round pick by the Lions in last month's NFL Draft. "I want to make the (53-man) roster and get on the field, whether that's going to be special teams or defense.
"Obviously special teams is going to be the main priority coming into camp and just being able to show my talent and show them that I can be on this field and play with the best."